Atlanta’s Darius Johnson (13) is one of the many rookies getting their chance to prove themselves late in the Falcons dismal season. Johnson is shwn trying to get away from Buffalo Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin (21) during the first half at the Rogers Center. (USA TODAY Sports: Kevin Hoffman)
With three games to play this season, the Atlanta Falcons are trying to find out if their 2013 draft class will be part of the solution moving into the offseason.
Against Green Bay, the Falcons played 10 rookies for a total of 416 snaps and all will likely get more action when they face the Washington Redskins at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
That could grow to 12 rookies if safety Kemal Ishamel, a seventh-round pick, or Terren Jones, an undrafted rookie offensive tackle, can get some action. Both were inactive for the game in Green Bay.
When a team decides to go “youth movement” route, it must be prepared to live with the mistakes.
On offense, rookies right tackle Ryan Schraeder (42 snaps, 71 percent), tight end Levine Toilolo (11, 19 percent) and wide receiver Darius Johnson (31, 53 percent) all played key roles against the Packers. Schraeder gave up the key strip-sack that led to the go-ahead touchdown.
On defense, linebackers Paul Worrilow (71 snaps, 100 percent) and Joplo Bartu (25, 35 percent), defensive ends Malliciah Goodman (25, 35 percent) and Stansly Maponga (15, 21 percent), cornerbacks Desmond Trufant (71, 100 percent) and Robert Alford (71, 100 percent) and safety Zeke Motta (53, 75 percent) were rookies who all played major snaps.
The Falcons, since being eliminated from the playoffs, have ramped up the play of the younger players on their roster. A combination of improved play from their younger players along with the returning veterans from injury should help them in 2014.
“I think the guys have worked hard and they deserve the opportunity to go out there and play,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “They need to play in games where there is something on the line. You want to see how they respond to it.”
The Falcons contend that they are not tanking games to improve their draft position.
“Our mission is to win the football games, no doubt about that,” Smith said. “But we felt that those young guys had the opportunity to go out and participate in a game for an entire game or most of the game. That’s what we were looking at (in Green Bay).”
Smith appears ready to live with plays by the rookies, like Schrader giving up the sack-strip to Green Bay linebacker Mike Neal.
“I believe that Ryan went out and had an opportunity to play his most significant snaps,” Smith said. “He did not start the ball game, but he had his most significant snaps. I’m sure you guys have seen replays on the strip/fumble. That was a big play.”
The rookies started out strong against the Packers in the frigid conditions of Lambeau Field and should be ready to go when they face Washington indoors.
“I felt like we started out fairly effectively running the ball efficiently early in the ball game,” Smith said. “In the second half, we did not. I don’t think we got a first down in the third quarter of the ball game. Three three-and-outs and a turnover, I believe. We did not move the football in the second half of the game.”
The other two rookies on offense, Johnson and Toilolo, didn’t make any significant contributions.
“I felt like in the first 30 minutes of the ball game we played well enough to win and in the second 30 minutes, we played poor football,” Smith said. “We didn’t play well enough to get the job done.”